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Union workers from Auglaize Acres, joined by family members of residents and friends, held a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening outside the Auglaize County Administration Building praying for a resolution to contract talks.
Battling a breeze to keep their candles lit, Susan Elliott, who serves on the executive board for the Auglaize Acres bargaining unit, led the group as they gathered along South Blackhoof Street.
“We are here just make people aware they want to reduce our hours and we don’t want to a reduction in hours because we have already gone four years without a raise,” Elliott said. “We want to continue to take care of the residents with the full-time hours and to take care of our families.”
The approximately 60 members of the Acres bargaining unit have been working under terms of an expired contract since June 30.
Workers would have their hours cut to 36 hours from 40 hours per week.
“We are trying to get a contract done — we have been,” Elliott said. “We are willing to move.”
She said the point of contention for them has been that reduction in hours and while they tried to keep silent and go through the negotiation process, they felt it was time to let the community know what was going on.
They also recently met with Auglaize County commissioners and are running 12 advertisements per day on local radio stations for approximately a week.
Commissioner John Bergman, who has heard the advertisements, said he learned of a possible vigil in front of the Auglaize County Administration Building last week.
“If they are going to have a vigil tonight (Tuesday) that is fine, they have a right to do that,” Bergman said. “We are still going to go through the process and there is one more meeting which is coming up in approximately a week.”
Bergman said the nursing staff would not be affected by a cut in hours and the meeting on Feb. 14 “will determine what the situation is. The Auglaize Acres has been known for providing good care and having good workers.”
Auglaize Acres, the county’s nursing home with rehabilitation services, should be financially self-sufficient, Bergman said.
Clemans & Nelson attorney Pat Hire, who serves as chief negotiator for the commissioners, said they wanted to look at reducing support staff to repair a budget that is working with a deficit which must be balanced. The reduction in hours was a way to do that without losing employees.
He said during fact finding it was changed that all employees would take the reduction, but Auglaize Acres management never planned to reduce hours for the nursing staff and will not.
He said management employees in the past two years have had benefits taken away to meet the budget and taken unpaid furloughs.
“We are trying to work with them,” Hire said. “We are trying to do what we can so the quality of care at the Acres will be maintained.”
The county and the Acres bargaining unit have reached an “ultimate impasse” and must follow a strict process by state law.
In an effort to try and reach an agreement, county officials have scheduled one more meeting for 2 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Auglaize Acres.
“If we can’t implement a contract, we will move forward or proceed with no contract,” Hire said. “Obviously, working with an agreed upon contract is best for everyone.
“The commissioners and (Acres Administrator) Connie Pierce want the Acres there,” Hire said, “but they will not let it be a burden on taxpayers.”
He said the county is not required to provide a nursing home, but have remained committed to it.
Managing Editor William Laney contributed to this story.